Six Concertante Quartets
Naxos 8.574360 52:43 mins
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges – fencer, boxer, swimmer, swordsman, hunter, skater and marksman – also wrote music that is the epitome of pre-revolutionary French galant style. His three sets of string quartets span Bologne’s published works, from the early 1770s with Op. 1 to the Op. 14 set of 1785. The Six Concertante Quartets on this disc from the Arabella String Quartet were probably written in 1777. As was typical of the still nascent genre of French string quartets, they are all in two movements, the second always being a rondeau. Elegant and fun, these delectable works were intended for ‘amateurs’, a word that still referred in the thriving French scene to music lovers rather than implying lower skill levels.
There’s certainly no lack of prowess in these delightful performances. The Arabellas wisely err on the side of briskness for the faster music, but with no loss of grace or refinement. They also appropriately add little ornaments and variants, making the fifth quartet’s ‘Gratioso’ a model of tasteful decoration. Occasionally more could be made of the score’s relatively few dynamic markings, though the boomy acoustic does not help. And violinists Julie Eskar and Sarita Kwok might have sat opposite each other to highlight when phrases flit back and forth between them. In all, though, this is wonderful advocacy of enchanting music.